Interesting news from the Library of Congress: They will be archiving every public tweet since Twitter’s inception in March 2006 in a digital repository for long-term preservation. I’ve always thought this was an interesting issue facing Twitter, as it becomes more and more a place where people are recording their personal histories. The LC blog post points to the historical importance of Barack Obama’s tweet after having won the 2008 presidential election. I also wonder about all those tweets that captures an event — everything from political protests, to movie premiers, to conferences, to natural disasters — that are a primary resource created by those experiencing the event, and that offer massive insights into what happened, how people reacted to it, and how we can learn from it. As it stands, Twitter is a terrible repository for capturing an historical event or experience. I tried to look for a link someone sent me last year via Twitter and it was nearly impossible to find… I had to dig through my account via a third-party application to finally track it down, and that’s only from last year! Imagine trying to find a tweet that was sent thirty years ago.
And what about the public histories we’re creating through our tweets? The personal ephemera that develops as we document new jobs, wedding proposals, reactions to social events, etc. Last year the Dean of the iSchool, Seamus Ross was on CBC Radio’s Spark, and made a good point about how our information — letters, notes, pictures, home videos — create an intimate portrait of ourselves and our lives. Stow it all in a shoebox under the bed, and your legacy lives on (assuming your grand kids are smart enough to find, consume, and preserve the items).
But when all this information takes on a digital format — e-mails, digital photos and videos, and of course, Facebook postings, Twitter tweets, and blog postings? How is it being preserved so that someone can re-find it is all those disparate locations? How is it being preserved? What happens when the USB on which you stored all your digital photos becomes an obsolete technology? It’s an interesting issue to grapple with as more and more of us use these applications in lieu of traditional media (not that traditional media can and does get preserved very well. But it’s the devil we know, right? And paper doesn’t require an application to use.). Luckily the Library of Congress is taking a small step towards responsible preservation of one of these applications. About 90% of tweets sent on Twitter are completely inane, but that other 10% will contain fascinating insights about our world when we’re all old and wrinkly.